College: A Generation at Risk

A College diploma is a goal for millions of Americans, yet graduation rates have never been lower and those who do graduate take 6 years on average compared to the 4 years of previous generations.  Recent research has helped us understand that these dismal outcomes are not because students cannot handle the coursework, because the vast majority of students can grasp the academic content; rather mental health issues are now the prominent struggle in College.   

The statistics tell a rather grim story at first glance.  A study by the APA in 2017 found 

86% of students with psychological and learning challenges left school without a diploma. The CDC discovered that suicide is currently the 2nd leading cause of death among college students and this year, WHO found that 1 in 20 full-time college students have seriously considered suicide. 

There is one statistic, however, that gives hope to these startling facts.  94% of high school students with emotional and learning differences receive some form of assistance. In contrast, only 17% of college students with the same challenges do so.  The remaining 74% still need assistance in navigating the new world of College life, but faced with logistical and financial constraints, Colleges will have to adapt quickly when it comes to providing services for the mental health of its students.  Currently, there is a nation-wide average of 2,500 students for every one counselor and this clearly isn’t enough. 

The good news, if you or someone you know needs help while in school, there are a couple of private and non-profit companies filling the gap in the state of Utah so please reach out for hope, healing, and help. 

Originally published on http://utvalleywellness.com/

“C”ommunicating with Our Teenagers

We cannot NOT communicate. – Ray Birdwhistell 

Everything we do communicates something. It has been estimated that between 67-94% of our communication is nonverbal. What is non-verbal communication, you ask? It is everything except the words. It could be a grunt, a smile, a sigh, our smell, our jewelry, our clothes, whistling, the way we comb our hair, tattoos, the way we cook our food, piercings or the lack thereof, our posture, the nuances and history of a relationship, a stare at our son, a gaze at a pretty girl, the way we walk, our mode of transportation, hand gestures, or making googly eyes and funny sounds at a baby. We may say something, but our true intentions frequently will leak through our nonverbal behavior.  

The tone, the attitude behind the words when you ask your son to do something, communicates a whole lot more than the words that you verbally say. It is the attitude that he will respond to, not merely the words. Everything communicates. That is why the “C” in the title of this article is so large. Everything communicates something. We cannot NOT communicate. 

Even a dead person communicates. They communicate deadness.  

It is what is not being said that we pay attention to; this is why sarcasm is so dangerous. With sarcasm, there is a contradiction between the verbal and the nonverbal. Sarcasm is typically cutting. In fact, the word means, “to tear flesh.” For children, sarcasm can be very confusing.  

If you were to attend a communication seminar on learning “Effective Communication Skills,” you might come away with skills such as: having good eye contact, sitting on the edge of your chair, nodding and other non-verbal behavior to indicate you are listening. You might also learn about the importance of reflective listening. All these skills are important, however, do you suppose it would be possible to perform all these behaviors and not really listen in a caring way? And, if a person didn’t really care, do you think other people will be able to tell?  

Of course they can. 

“There is something deeper than behavior that others can sense – something that, when wrong, undercuts the effectiveness of even the most outwardly ‘correct’ behavior.” i  This thing that is deeper than behavior is something philosophers have been talking about for centuries. Carl Rogers called it “Way of Being.”ii  

Martin Buber explains that there are two fundamental ways of being, two ways of seeing another person. The first way is as a ”Thou,” a person with hopes and dreams and struggles similar to your own.  The other way of seeing a person is as an “It.” This is where one objectifies a person. “If I see them at all, I see them as less than I am – less relevant, less important, and less real.”iii This is then also about you and your perspective. There is always a good chance that a person does not see things the way they really are; that person may be missing something. We must be willing to honestly look at ourselves and see what part of the problem is our own. “Might I be provoking the other person without even knowing it?” 

When we talk to our teenagers, we sometimes ask them questions.  We must understand that they do not merely answer our questions; they are answering a relationship. Our conversations don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen in the context of a historical relationship.  They are answering a person, and with that person, comes an accumulation and history of their interactions. They answer according to the quality of their recent and remote relationship. 

For example, you might ask your daughter, “Would you take the dog for a walk?” She could respond in a variety of ways. She could ignore you. She could say, “of course.” She could tell you to eat rocks, or yell out while leaving, “maybe later.” On the other hand, if your daughter’s best friend (having a different relationship) said, “Let’s take the dog for a walk?” Your daughter may happily agree to take the dog for a walk. The relationship determines the interaction. 

In his book ”7 Habits of Highly Effective People,”iv Stephen Covey speaks of an emotional bank account we each have with our children. We must have enough positive interactions, thus building the relationship in our “emotional bank account,” before we can safely make a withdrawal (correction/discipline) without damaging the relationship. After all, we do not want to bankrupt the relationship.  When the emotional bank account is healthy, your child can take correction, knowing that it is coming from a place of love. 

The quality of the relationship determines our ability to be effective parents  

and our teenager’s willingness to allow us to influence them. 

 The moment a parent has a nasty verbal exchange with their teenager is not the time to try to immediately solve the problem. There are too many hot emotions for anyone to think clearly. If the relationship is generally good, waiting for a few hours, or perhaps a day to address the problem is wise. Time allows the parents and teenager space to see the situation clearly without the corrupting influence of these distorted and self-justifying thoughts and emotions.  

If the relationship has been rocky, time is needed for the relationship to heal. Part of healing process is deliberately working on developing trust again; another topic for another day. 

Originally published on http://utvalleywellness.com/

 

 

Medication Management and Mental Health

In my career in healthcare, I have seen far too many patients who have been prescribed medication and continue to take that medication faithfully; Yet after a time, they are not really sure why they are taking that specific medication or if it is even helping with the diagnosed issue.  

 What is missing for these patients? Medication management 

Medication management is the process of following up with the healthcare provider on a regular basis to assess the effectiveness of the prescribed medication therapy, discuss any side effects that may go along with the medication, and make adjustments in order to achieve proper dosing. In some cases, the follow-up may be to change the prescribed medication therapy, if it is not providing the desired outcomes. Medication management should be an ongoing process. It should include open dialogue between the patient and provider about the effects of the medication combined with any other therapies or treatments that may be in place. This is to ensure useful data is being collected, so decisions can be made based on the whole picture; not just the medication piece. 

When it comes to psychiatric and mental health services, the importance of quality medication management cannot be overemphasized. Not all people who seek psychiatric help will require medication. In some cases, amino acid therapy may be appropriate or continued therapy and counseling with regular psychiatric follow-up is warranted. If medication is prescribed, the patient should plan to see the psychiatric provider within 2 weeks (in most cases) for the first medication management visit.  Continued follow-up visits should be scheduled monthly, or as needed depending on the individual case. 

During these visits, the patient should plan on communicating openly with the psychiatric provider about their use of the medication, any side effects that they may be noticing, and any changes they are feeling in relation to their mental health diagnosis. At times, genetic testing can be used to pinpoint what medications are more likely to work for each individual patient. This testing can be used not only for patients who are just beginning psychiatric treatment but also for patients who have been prescribed medication therapies that aren’t working. The patient should also plan to consult with the psychiatric provider before taking any other medications. They should inform the provider of other mental health therapies being used or medical complications that may arise during treatment. The patient should expect the provider to ask questions that will direct and lead the conversation, so time is well spent and modifications can be made with confidence. 

Ultimately, the key to effective psychiatric medication management is open and continual communication between the patient and provider. At the Center for Couples and Families, our psychiatric providers strive to provide thorough psychiatric assessment, follow-up, and medication management. 

Originally published on http://utvalleywellness.com/

 

 

Forced Apologies by Carol Kim, MS, LAMFT

My four-year-old daughter placed herself in the middle of our living room to play with blocks. She was so engrossed with building a wooden castle that she didn’t notice her two-year-old sister walking towards her with her right arm stretched far back to slap her older sister across the head. When that slap came, my older daughter went from happy to surprise to anger and then lots of tears. She ran towards me seeking justice. “Mommy, she hit me!” My younger daughter remained still, looking innocent. I immediately walked over to her with my older daughter in hand and said, “Hands are not for hitting. Say sorry for hitting please.”  I’m sure many parents can relate to this scenario. Teaching our children the skills for making amends is an important life skill and is not so much about saying the words “I’m sorry”.  

There is a belief amongst some parents that enforcing premature apologies on children is not effective. Their reasoning is that premature apologies teach children to lie and encourage insincerity. It also creates shame and embarrassment. Other studies show that young children have the ability to be empathetic even before they can speak; therefore, parents should encourage apologies (Smith, Chen, Harris; 2010). As I reflected on my research and my knowledge as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I recognized several things we can do as parents to create productive apologies: 

  1. Keep yourself in check: It’s frustrating to see your children fight, especially when it happens at inconvenient times. However, it’s important to remain calm and model for your children how to handle frustration.   
  2. Be immediate when possible: When you see an incident occur between your children, address it. The best time for learning and growth is when the incident is still fresh in their minds. However, when there are time constraints and the issue cannot be addressed right away, it is important to tell your children when and where it will be addressed. Be consistent when using the alternative and follow through.  
  3. Ask instead of tell: Avoid lecturing. Ask questions instead. “Tell me what happened?” “What were you feeling when you hit your sister?” Validate the expressed emotion and help them to understand that it is okay to feel frustration and sadness; however, it is not okay to hit or throw things. Help them to also make the connection between emotion and action. “Look at her face, how do you think she’s feeling right now?” Asking these types of questions enhances empathy. 
  4. Problem Solve: Ask questions about what they think they should do when they feel frustrated or sad. Help them to come up with solutions.  Ask questions about how they can make things better with their sibling/s. 
  5. Have them practice a do-over: When your child identifies the solution, have them practice it with the other sibling/s. Praise them for their efforts at the end.    

What is more important than the phrase “I’m sorry” is what children take away from the experience. We can facilitate and enhance learning opportunities by not focusing on the phrase “I’m sorry” but instead more on what can be learned from this situation and how can we improve.  

About the Author: Carol is a therapist at the American Fork Center for Couples and Families. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has spent the past 6 years practicing in several cities across the United States, including Boston, San Francisco, and now, American Fork. She is passionate about applying the principles of therapy to improve lives and relationships, and is committed to creating a safe, comfortable, and supportive environment. Carol specializes in individual, couples, and family therapy, and has extensive clinical experience treating depression, anxiety, ADHD, addictions, domestic violence, trauma, children/adolescents and relationship issues.

Maintaining A Relationship That Is Juicy, Fun, Passionate and Loving by Dr. Matt Eschler, Ph.D

I am pretty certain that we all hope for a juicy, fun, passionate, loving relationship with our lovers! The relationships that maintains a spark over decades of being together are built carefully they most definitely are NOT accidents! You don’t connect with a “soul mate” and settle into mandatory bliss. If you are hoping, longing, reaching for a juicy fun passionate relationship then you will want to read the rest if this article!

Juicy fun passionate relationships are created. If you keep a few rules you can be certain your marriage is all you ever fantasized about! Keep these three incredibly simple rules of engagement and juicy, fun, passion will be yours!

Get to know each other every day.

By constantly developing connection and strengthening your relationship bond you breath new life into your marriage every chance you get. Sometimes you will be giving rescue breathes during crisis and struggle while other times you are giving extra oxygen creating a sense of peace and relaxation. Know your lovers top five or six needs to be happy. Many couples think they know each other and know what drives happiness only to find they have lost touch with change, growth, and each other. To keep on the razor edge front line of juicy passionate fun you have to meet together and talk. I suggest three meeting a week is the minimum. These three meetings each come with there distinct purpose. First have a date night. This is where couples flirt, tease, kiss, and talk about hopes and dreams with each other. Second meeting is couples council. In this meeting you discover the struggles you each face. You empathize with each other, grow through strife and strain while talking about hard topics trusting you will stand by each other for better or worse. Third meeting is family night. This is a time to organize your family share family activities, dreams, and structure the household as a unified front. All three of these meetings are really mandatory and refreshing if you engage weekly on purpose.

Transparency

Second of the three “must” for juicy fun passionate relationships is all about transparency. Share your whole self holding nothing back. If you only share what your lover approves of your holding them hostage. Allow your lover to see all of you and realize your love for each other grows with knowledge of what makes us tic. Sharing a deep sense of fondness and adorationfor each other! (Number one cause of divorce is contempt) is a major part of the intimacy you will Experience. Have you ever caught yourself thinking fond thoughts about your lover and not expressing these thoughts out loud because it feels way vulnerable? My challenge to you is be vulnerable every day! Dare to share all your fondness and admiration out loud and often! Pray with each other express gratitude to the God of your understanding for each other. Imagine the power you will have as Couple joining in prayer to begin each day unified! Celebrate victories, Support each other’s interests, and helping achieve each other’s dreams are all ways of generating juicy fun passionate marriages. I think you get the idea.

Positive Sentiment Override (Gottman Term)

Finally the third principle followed by juicy, passionate, fun couples is a constant positive sentiment override. You always have two choices in how you SEE your lover. You can think negative or you can see the good. You can interpret what is said through a filter of offense. Seeking to be offended will generally lead to you finding a way to actually be offended. The thousands of interactions will be filled with minor slights and errors that can be exploited and used to feel sad, hurt and bugged a each other. On the other hand you have every right to filter all those same interactions through a sieve that separates out all the warm juicy passionate sentiments and feel love and joy. It’s really fun p to you! No, your not burying your head in the sand your simply seeking the good gifts offered.

Think about all of this and have an incredible juicy fun valentines month in February.

About the Author:  Dr. Matt Eschler lives in St. George, Utah where he and his wife Chris are enjoying their life with each other. Since their kids have grown and moved out perusing their dreams Matt and Chris travel the world. They want to visit 200 countries before the are done. Matt and Chris are active in their community and enjoy working out, training for marathons, and spending time participating in numerous activities with their adult children.  Matt has received his PhD in Psychology. He is focused on the arena of resolving personal conflicts and improving interpersonal relationships. In addition to his Doctorate Degree Matt has earned a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, studied Criminal Justice and received a category I licensure with Peace Officer Standard of Training along with a degree in the Arts of Business Management. Matt is a professor at Dixie State University and hopes to be part of the positive growth of Southern Utah.

Hidden Signs of Depression by Alberto Souza, MSN, APRN, FNP-C

Studies show about 1 out of every 6 adults will have depression at some time in their life. This means that you probably know someone who is depressed or may become depressed at some point. We often think of a depressed person as someone who is sad or melancholy. However, there are other signs of depression that can be a little more difficult to detect.

 

Trouble Sleeping

If you notice a change in a loved one’s sleeping habits pay close attention as this could be a sign of depression. Oftentimes depression leads to trouble sleeping and lack of sleep can also lead to depression.

Quick to Anger
When a person is depressed even everyday challenges can seem more difficult or even impossible to manage which often leads to increased anger and irritability. This can be especially true for adolescents and children.


Losing Interest
When someone is suffering from depression you may notice a lack of interest in past times he or she typically enjoys. “People suffering from clinical depression lose interest in favorite hobbies, friends, work — even food. It’s as if the brain’s pleasure circuits shut down or short out.”


Appetite Changes
Gary Kennedy, MD, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York cautions that a loss of appetite can be a sign of depression or even a sign of relapse back into depression. Dr. Kennedy also points out that others have trouble with overeating when they are depressed.


Low Self-Esteem

Depression often leaves people feeling down about themselves. Depression can lead to feelings of self-doubt and a negative attitude.

 

What to do
If you suspect you or someone you love may be suffering from depression talk about it, encourage him or her to get professional help and once he or she does be supportive. Remember that at times symptoms of depression need to be treated just like any other medical condition.

Sources

Healthtalk.org

helpguide.org

Psychology Today

About the Author:  Alberto has worked in healthcare for over 10 years. He began as a CNA and then worked as a registered nurse until completing his Master’s Degree in Nursing.  Alberto has been been working as a Nurse Practitioner since April of 2013.  In addition to his work as a Nurse Practitioner, he also teaches online classes for the Dixie State University Nursing Program.  He is currently working at the St. George Center For Couples & Families.

A New Start. A New Journey. A New You. How the right therapy, and the right therapist can help get you there by David Nutter, MA, LAMFT

New starts in life often happen when people decide to engage therapy. Whenever I meet new clients as individuals, couples, or even families, I ask them what their goals are in therapy. For some, they have not been asked about what they need, want, or even prefer in their lives for a long time. For others, it often feels that they have never been heard at all, let alone asked. What happens when you go to therapy? What type of model and style of therapy will the person you see provide? What is their level of formal training, how well attuned are they to meet your needs and do they rely on any other resources other than their self-perceived competency? Understanding how much someone knows about your particular issue(s) is a critical step in selecting the type of therapist and style of therapy you will engage.

For example, as I write this article I am thinking of the many different styles of therapy available. I can immediately think of 11 different styles: structural family therapy, strategic therapy, the Milan systemic approach, the Mental Research Institute (MRI) approach, Satir’s communication approach, symbolic-experiential family therapy, intergenerational family therapy, collaborative therapy, narrative therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and solution-focused therapy. That’s a lot of different styles of therapy, all with empirical research associated with their model and experts in each field.

Added to this list of styles of therapy are the therapists themselves. Who are you going to see and what you are likely to experience is largely dependent on the type of education they have and the experience they have with others. There is a vast difference in the education requirements to become a life coach, mental health counselor or a marriage and family therapist (MFT). There are differences in approaches and emphasis, even within the same style/model of therapy. You and the particular issues you bring to therapy may be weighing on you. The therapist fortunate enough to have you as a client should work as hard on your issues as you do.

There are resources such as books, workbooks, films, music and other sources that might resonate with you that are not particularly useful or preferred by others. You have decided to make a new start and that new start needs the support of the developing relationship of trust you are building with your therapist of choice. That relationship is essential for discussing what you want to achieve and the ways you plan to address the changes or goals you want for yourself and your relationships. Your new journey starts with a decision about what you want to experience in the future. Often this gets accomplished by a review of the past and current life experiences you have survived or thrived from. The therapist caring deeply about your experiences and your strengths will celebrate what you have achieved and where you are going. Aspects that you bring to the therapy effort are elements of the way you might describe yourself—the many facets of who you are. When people describe their experiences in therapy, I hope they include feeling heard, challenged, respected, validated, encouraged and celebrated. Their experience should feel welcomed like a friend, with a serious focus in a nurturing manner. Sometimes people cry, reflect and reconsider critical directions or attitudes they have adopted. Sometimes they laugh and release tension in a light-hearted way. New beginnings are often encouraged by a therapist going the extra mile along side of you, so you can keep going more miles, confidently forward. Welcome to your new start.

 

About the Author:

David Nutter is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at the St. George Center For Couples & Families. His career experience includes military service, management and executive positions and international business consulting. He received his undergraduate degree from BYU and his Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Northcentral University, a COAMFTE approved program. David was inducted into two honor societies for academic and clinical excellence and is enrolled in NCU’s PhD/ MFT program. During his Master’s program he was mentored by Steve Allred, with a broad range of client ages and issues. He served as the SGPD Chaplain (board certified) to reduce the impact to personnel and citizens from significant trauma experiences. He is adjunct faculty at DSU. He has lived in every U.S. time zone and abroad, and appreciates diversity. David is married to his “girlfriend” Diane. Together, they call their 7 children, their spouses/partners and 5 grandchildren their immediate family.

Why Should Couples Consistently Set New Year’s Resolutions Together? By Dr. Matt Eschler, Ph.D, LMFT

I have counseled couples for twenty-five years. Panicking, anxiously pacing, wringing hands, couples have wandered into my office, hoping to find some peace in their relationships. In the counseling arena we explore some very principled foundation ingredients that, when mixed together, produce peaceful, passionate relationships.

There are three fundamental ingredients that all of us need to exercise for a shot at a sound relationship. My challenge to you is to sit with your lover and assess the following three principles, and set specific goals to learn a little more, stand a little more firm, and increase your skills in these three areas:

The first foundation principle is friendship. Friendship is unilateral. Increase your friendship with your lover every couple of hours. You do this by sharing information, being trustworthy, and being transparent—without conditions.

The second principle that relationships will not survive without is influence. You must accept your lover’s influence. Men seem to have a slightly more difficult time with this, but both partners will benefit from allowing influence. Think about a time when there was disagreement in direction of relationship or activity. Did you allow your lover to have influence? Did you argue until one of you gave in? Was their healthy negotiation until a mutually satisfying result occurred? The hope is always influence and no competition. Get a little better at this in 2018!

Finally, the third principle is generating a governing purpose for your marriage. This is the North Star that holds you both accountable to a result that is desirable and cherished. If you are seeking the same purpose, you won’t go after hostile results. For example, my wife and I want to travel the world. If I sneak out and spend our travel money on a new truck and lots of clothes, we won’t have resources available to travel. That causes issues. If I save and we put our travel fund together and watch it grow together, we will eventually accomplish our common goal.

I invite you all to accept this challenge: In 2018 be a little bit better in all three of these areas. Sit with your lover and map out a specific strategy to accomplish these three goals to improve your relationship.

 

About the Author: Matt lives in St. George, Utah where he and his wife Chris are enjoying their life with each other. Since their kids have grown and moved out perusing their dreams Matt and Chris travel the world. They want to visit 200 countries before the are done. Matt and Chris are active in their community and enjoy working out, training for marathons, and spending time participating in numerous activities with their adult children.  Matt has received his PhD in Psychology. He is focused on the arena of resolving personal conflicts and improving interpersonal relationships. In addition to his Doctorate Degree Matt has earned a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, studied Criminal Justice and received a category I licensure with Peace Officer Standard of Training along with a degree in the Arts of Business Management. Matt is a professor at Dixie State University and hopes to be part of the positive growth of Southern Utah.

3 Steps to New Habits by Joan R. Landes, M.A., AMHC

stock-2A wise person once said, “We make our habits, then our habits make us.” So we set goals and make resolutions, but our good intentions and resolutions often end in disappointment. Isn’t there an easier way to create a good habits? The answer is “Yes!”

In three simple steps, a new habit can be formed in just a few days.
1. Anchor your goal to an existing habit
2. Start small with an easy behavior
3. Validate your efforts

First, use an existing behavior as an anchor for your new habit. For instance, if you wish to develop a habit of doing daily push-ups, and you already brush your teeth every morning, use brushing your teeth as your prompt for your new habit. After you finish brushing your teeth, begin to do the pushups.

goalsSecond, start with something ridiculously easy like one push-up. Or, if your goal is flossing your teeth, start with flossing just one tooth. While you do the behavior consciously tell yourself that you enjoy the activity: “I like the way my muscles feel alive when I do push-ups!” or “My teeth feel great when I floss!”

Third, after you complete your small goal, validate your efforts aloud. It can be as simple as saying “Great job!” or “Awesome!” Saying it aloud is more powerful than just thinking the words, so don’t be shy. Throughout the day make sure to keep telling yourself you did great when you think of your goal. The great thing about this type of self-validation is that it doesn’t cost anything, it’s legal, non-fattening and immediate.

That’s it! After a few days, you will find yourself looking forward to engaging in the new behavior. Gradually, you can increase your small goal into a bigger one.

Close-up of four business executives standing in a line and applaudingSince I try to practice what I preach to my clients, I have used this technique in my own life. My goal: Develop more upper body strength through morning push-ups. First, I thought of my existing morning habits and the first thing that came to mind was simple – opening my eyes! It’s hard to do push-ups while lying on a mattress, however, so I had to come up with another anchor habit. I chose to anchor my goal to my current habit of making my bed.

After tucking in the blankets and tossing the pillows on the duvet I dropped to the floor on my hands and toes for three standard push-ups followed by three modified push-ups (knee style!). I told myself, “This is very cool!” Easy, right?

Afterwards I said, “Awesome!” My sleeping husband pulled the bedspread and pillows off his face and called out, “What’s awesome down there?”
“I’m doing my morning push-ups, honey,” I told him.
“Good grief, all that grunting woke me up.”
“Wait till you feel my biceps,” I bragged.
“Keep working on it, Sweetie,” he said. “Someday you’ll find them.”

But it was too late. I couldn’t be discouraged because I had already validated myself and was looking forward to the next session! I haven’t missed a day since before Christmas, and the really cool part is that I don’t dread exercising. Hey, don’t mess with success, right? As my son who is a cadet at the military academy at West Point said, “Not bad for a 50-year old, Mom.”

“Fifty-one,” I said. I want every kudo I can get!

joan297x222About the Author: Joan Landes is a therapist at the Center for Couples and Families. She feels that therapy should be an adventure for her clients and (gasp!) actually fun. Joan loves learning the latest neuroscience underpinning human resilience and is enthusiastic about skill development in her clients. She has been married for 32 years and is the mother of 7 children who make this world a better place.

A Healthy Dose of Back-to-School Anxiety by Brent Black, LMFTA, MS

?????????????????What is a Healthy Dose of Back-to-School Anxiety?  As a family therapist, I often meet with parents who want to know if their child has anxiety and my quick response is “I hope so!” Today the mere mention of the word anxiety tends to induce stomach knots, racing hearts, and cold sweats. However, a proper dosage of anxiety is a key component for healthy and successful children. On the other hand, excessive anxiety and the absence of anxiety are debilitating. Since the launching of school can also launch levels of anxiety for many students, here are a few points for parents to consider as they look forward to a successful year.

MP900405644Too Much?
The better question about anxiety is “does my child have excessive anxiety?” All healthy individuals experience at least some anxiety, but excessive levels of anxiety can lead to harmful behaviors. In order to diagnose an individual with Generalized Anxiety Disorder they must meet certain criteria which include excessive anxiety or worry more days than not for at least 6 months, difficulty controlling the worry, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, or muscle tension. These symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in social, educational or other significant areas of functioning. So, a helpful question in determining excessive anxiety is — “has my child been significantly impaired for an extended amount of time in important areas of their life because of the anxiety that they feel?”

The beginning of the school year is a fitting time for parents to consider the possibility that their actions might be creating additional anxiety. One parental trend that often leads children to experience greater anxiety is an excessive family emphasis on achievement. Children who feel like they have to achieve in order to win the approval and respect of their parents are often filled with anxiety. Their motivation for achieving becomes less about personal growth and more about fear of letting parents down.

Kids on School BusNot Enough?
The opposite of anxiety is apathy or carelessness. Children who are apathetic give off a vibe of indifference, laziness, boredom, and unconcern. Faces are unflinching and tones are flat. The default response for many questions is simply “I don’t know.” There is not an official term of diagnosis to describe these characters but they are easily identifiable.

One parental trend that could lead a child toward apathy is a parent who is inconsistent, indifferent, and un-opinionated about their child’s success. I see exceptions to this trend, but I am often unsurprised by a child’s apathy after meeting both parents and understanding that a child is simply following the example of at least one of the parents. In these cases the apple really doesn’t fall that far from the tree.

Achieving the Right Amount of Anxiety
???????????????????????A great question from parents is ‘how do I help my children have the proper amount of anxiety?’ One of the best ways of helping kids reduce to a healthy level of anxiety is by maintaining high expectations while also assuring children both verbally and non-verbally that parental love is not dependent on child outcomes. In other words, parents need to convey that regardless of achievement level their children will always be genuinely loved.
One of the main ways that parents can increase the anxiety level of their apathetic children is to get actively involved. Parents who sincerely check-in and follow-up with their children are likely to see the kind of anxiety that will help motivate their children to succeed.

Although anxiety is often viewed in a negative light, a healthy dosage of anxiety helps children to be successful. Of concern are children who are experiencing excessive anxiety or no anxiety at all. Great parents are those who feel appropriate anxiety about helping their children to be balanced in their anxiety.

brentAbout the Author: Brent is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. During his Master’s Degree at Brigham Young University he worked at Wasatch Mental Health where he gained experience in working with families who have children that struggled with depression, anxiety, autism, trauma, or addictions. Learn more about Brent at st.georgefamilies.com.